Their hands were quick to shoot up as the young students eagerly shared their knowledge of states around the country.
For local author Kittie Wooliscroft, the dozen students at Hillside Montessori seemed ready to talk with her, just as she was there to tell them about her travels and state facts. Wooliscroft, giving students each a copy of her book “Here in America” to reference, talked with students about using the book as a resource for states’ information and shared some of the information she had gathered of the 50 states.
Wooliscroft, a Minnesota native, has lived in LaGrange about four years. She has a love of traveling that she uses to fulfill her “big city yearning.”
“I still have a lot of big city in me,” Wooliscroft said. “LaGrange is wonderful, the people are so warm, and sometimes I have to stop and think, ‘Would this happen in a big city?’”
She also has hosted or shared her home with exchange students since the late 1960s, and always enjoyed seeing the students learn about what America really had to offer. She said many foreign residents don’t seem to have a real understanding of what makes up the United States, instead basing their understanding on just big cities.
“I went to Turkey and a young man said he had been to the United States,” Wooliscraft said. “I asked where, and he said ‘New York City.’ I said that’s not right.”
Although she had long had the idea to compile a book about the United States, that event motivated her to get it done.
“We’re not wall-to-wall McDonald’s and all live in luxury,” Wooliscroft said about common misinterpretations of America.
When she was invited by Hillside Montessori director and lead teacher Bethany Headrick to speak to the children, who range from first to fourth grades, Wooliscroft thought it would be a good chance to whet their appetite for travel.
“It’s always great to come back home, but it’s fabulous for them to see that there is more than their back yard,” Wooliscroft said.
Headrick said the book melds perfectly with the Montessori teaching style, giving children research projects to find answers on their own. The children recently completed their own research on the states and were comparing their findings to Wooliscroft’s, like debating whether the state tree was the live oak or the more publicity-friendly peach tree. Wooliscroft’s book assured them it was the live oak.
“The whole basis for the Montessori curriculum is for students to follow their interests in certain subjects and inquire in the classroom,” Headrick said. “Each student usually has at least one research project going on, so when I heard about the book and that the author was local … I thought it was perfect for students.”
The local base also fulfills part of the Montessori curriculum to be involved with the community, Headrick said. She said the students are learning that teaching is not just during school hours, but a lifelong experience.
“They go on field trips and have local speakers come in. Every day they are learning in the community and getting first-hand knowledge,” Headrick said.
This is the first year of the Hillside Montessori school, which teaches first to fourth grades. It was created as a companion to the First Presbyterian Montessori that has operated for pre-kindergarten to kindergarten students for more than 30 years. A group of parents came together, including Headrick and her mother, First Presbyterian director Pat Headrick, to create the new school with fundraisers and private contributions.
This year the school has operated out of the LaGrange College Mitchell House with 12 students, but will expand to 25 students next year and organizers plan to build a multi-classroom facility in the Hillside area in the coming years. Ultimately it will teach up to sixth grade. In the long term, it may expand to a full middle school, up to ninth grade, if the group can raise enough funds and interest.
“We’re doing fundraisers, applying for grants and donations,” Headrick said, noting the group is a certified non-profit.
In the meantime, Headrick’s goal is for the first 12 Montessori elementary school students are well-rounded in their education, while enjoying the experience. She said having someone like Wooliscroft come is one of the highlights for her students.
“Stuff like this is what the kids love – guests coming in and teaching them new things,” Headrick said.